A note from the author:
You may remember Lorna Terry from my book, ‘Commitment’; Riley’s mother, the professor who resented her daughter’s decision to marry a rapper of all things, but more than that, as a radical feminist sometimes resented the very idea of marriage.
Of all the characters I’ve ever written, Lorna Terry seemed to be the most sure of who she was and came to me feeling ‘whole’–like there was very little for me to do but put her on the page. I didn’t wonder how she became the self-assured woman she was, she just … was. But no one comes ‘whole’. We’re all the product of little tiny pieces of experiences, lessons, prejudices, assets and flaws. So I wanted to deconstruct Lorna, figure out who she is, and why she is the woman we see in ‘Commitment’. What I uncovered was someone much more flawed than I expected, and much more layered. I loved writing this book. And for the first time in a long time, I didn’t want to leave the characters.
On April 20th, I introduce you to her. I hope you love her –with all her flaws and complications–as I do.
About the book:
In the summer of her fifteenth year as a professor at Gilchrist College, Lorna Terry is at a crossroads and, she fears, also on the downswing of her career as the “sole remaining radical feminist in academia.” Having built her life on a theory of non-attachment, she is disturbed to find herself becoming very much attached to the somewhat younger, Malcolm T. Mitchell. A writer-on-the rise, and her college’s newest wunderkind, Malcolm is about to challenge everything she thought she ever knew about her life, her loves, and her work.
But her growing attachment to Malcolm may well be the least of Lorna’s worries. For some in her academic community, she has risen too far, and too fast. And for others, she is much too smug in her accomplishments, enjoys adulation she doesn’t deserve, and is much too proud. And you know what they say about pride …
It cometh before the fall.
From ‘The Fall’:
“It’s so weird visiting you here,” Riley said walking around the office. “I don’t recall ever coming to your office when I was actually enrolled at the college.”
“You didn’t. But I wasn’t in this office. When you were here, I had the much smaller one in Rayburn Hall.”
Riley had left Shawn with the kids for the day and driven up. For lunch was what they said, though they both knew the real reason was to finish the conversation that had been started in Riley’s kitchen a few days after she brought Cassidy home from the hospital. Already, her daughter had resumed the size she was before her pregnancy—breastfeeding and her father’s genes, probably. Lorna remembered carrying around an extra twenty pounds for months after Riley’s birth. And of course, she hadn’t breastfed at all.
“Which classes are having their reunions this year?” Riley asked lifting and inspecting a book on Lorna’s desk.
“Not sure. I usually leave town for all that brouhaha.”
“Which I’m sure makes the deans mad at you. I bet lots of people come just to meet you.”
“Don’t kid yourself. They come to get drunk and sleep with their old college boyfriend or girlfriend, to see whether all those sweet romantic memories are accurate.”
Riley laughed. “Ever the cynic. I had lots of college flings. I can’t imagine being even slightly interested in any of them now.”
“Remember how you never wanted me to meet them?” Lorna asked gathering her bag and keys. “Now that you’re older I can ask: what the hell was up with that?”
“I don’t know.” Riley shrugged. “I was probably afraid of them falling in love with you or something.”
“No, seriously. You always seemed to attract younger men in droves …”
Lorna thought of the grad student, whose name she now knew well—Todd Williamson. And she thought of Malcolm, who lately had begun to seem less and less young.
“That’s not true. Is it?”
“Yes, Mom. Seriously? You don’t remember?”
“No, I don’t. Like … who are you talking about?”
“Like I could remember their names.” Riley scoffed.
Though Lorna knew she didn’t mean it to be cruel or judgmental, the comment stung. There had been men, for sure, but when Riley entered Gilchrist, Lorna hadn’t yet turned forty. She was in her prime, so of course there were men.
“Did I …” She paused while locking her office door. “Did I introduce you to them all?”
“If you could call it that. I ran into some in our kitchen when I stopped by the house, or in the bathroom, or …”
“How is it we never talked about this?”
“What was there to talk about? You had lovers. You never hid that, and you always taught me it was nothing to be ashamed of. So I didn’t …” Riley shrugged again. “It was mostly no big deal. I can’t believe you’re saying you now don’t remember any of this.”
“No,” Lorna said. “I’m not saying I don’t remember any of it. I guess I just remember it differently, that’s all. There were men who were around for longer. There was Earl, there was …”
Riley seemed to detect her consternation and touched her on the forearm. “Lorna, like I said, it was no big deal.”
“You said it was mostly no big deal, actually. That’s not the same thing.”
“Well I meant ‘no big deal’. So anyway, let’s go find someplace to eat. I feel like Italian. How ‘bout you?”
They ate at Andiamo! which was a favorite of the Gilchrist community because of its enormous antipasti selection and could-stuff-a-horse entrée portion sizes. Riley ordered like someone who was still eating for two, but Lorna didn’t bother remarking on it since her daughter never seemed to gain an ounce anyway, and wouldn’t have cared if she did. Lorna herself had only recently begun to care about things like pant sizes and the number on the scale.
“So I want to talk more about me being a bad mother,” Lorna said once they’d placed their orders.
Riley looked at her, freezing just as she was about to dip a piece of bread into the plate of olive oil and cracked pepper between them.
“Who said anything about ..? See this is why we never have these kinds of conversations. When it’s about you, you get incredibly sensitive. And yet you insist on doling out brutal truths to everyone else when it’s about them.”
“What you described earlier, men coming and going, is a pretty shitty mother, that’s all.”
“That’s your judgment of yourself. I never said anything like that.”
“I don’t know how else to …”
“Look, I came here because I wanted to ask you some questions about my father. And suddenly it’s about you. It’s always about you, Lorna.”
“Ah. And now we get the truth.”
“I always tell you the truth. And the truth is this: I never said you were a bad mother. Did I sometimes wish you made it to more PTA meetings? Sure. Did I wish my house didn’t reek of pot when my friends came over when I was in middle school? Of course. Did I occasionally want you to bake some fucking brownies? Yes! But I never said you were a shitty mother!”
Riley raising her voice was so unusual that Lorna was for a few minutes, literally without words.
“I don’t know what narrative you have in your head about yourself that you’re hoping I’ll confirm for you,” Riley continued in a calmer tone. “But I had a pretty good childhood. Some of it not so good, but on balance, good. I don’t know what else you want me to say.”
“I’m … sorry.”
Riley looked up. She seemed surprised. Lorna knew it was because those two words were ones she didn’t often say in sequence. The second one she didn’t often say, period.
“You’re right. This isn’t about me. But I think some of what you said may have triggered me. Made me think of my own mother.”
“What about her?” Riley asked slowly. “We never … You’ve never told me much about your family. I don’t even know if there’s anyone left.”
“I don’t know either,” Lorna said ruefully.
“Mom. Look. If today you don’t feel up to …”
“No. You came up here, so let’s talk.” She nodded. “Let me tell you about your father.”
Riley bit into the crusty bit of bread in her hand, brushing away the crumbs that fell onto her shirt. “Okay, so …”
“It’s hard to talk about him,” Lorna acknowledged.
“Why? Was he like, I don’t know, an asshole to you or something?”
Lorna laughed. “No. Quite the opposite, actually.”
She leaned back and took a deep breath before beginning to speak.